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Life/work planning is my beat. And there are a thousand stories in the naked city. Oops, wrong column. Let's start again.
She was 22, and as bright as they come. But she had just been through an experience which she felt she had not handled very well.
"Guess I'm not as bright as I thought I was," she said.
I argued, "Of course you are. You just haven't had enough 'life experience' yet." She stared at me, quizzically. So, I told her the following story.
I once found myself on an airplane, sitting by the window. No one was in the middle seat. But on the aisle was a woman in her early forties, reading a manuscript of some sort. What drew my attention to her was a nervous habit she had, of which she seemed oblivious: she was constantly moving her right hand and wrist in circles in the air. I felt sorry for her. "I'll bet she doesn't even know she has this nervous mannerism," I thought to myself. We didn't speak to each other. We just devoted ourselves to our work. And to our thoughts.
But when lunch appeared, she was apparently in the mood to chat, so she sweetly turned to me and said, "You know, I never would have believed how long it would take to get strength back— after your arm has been in a cast for six weeks. The doctor makes me do these exercises endlessly." I slunk down in my seat, feeling like a complete idiot. I had completely misread the situation. But later, as I thought about it, I realized she had given me a beautiful metaphor for what happens to all of us in life.
From the time we are little, our ability to make decisions is put into a kind of 'decision-cast.' The grownups make all our major decisions for us in our first years. "Do as I say." "Be home by 10." "Don't do that." "Don't play with that." "Eat your food."
And then suddenly we are told, "Okay, now you're old enough. Go, and make a lot of decisions. What to do with your life. What school to attend. What place to live. What field to major in. Who to fall in love with. What to do about drugs. Whether or not to smoke. Go into the military. Or not."
But we just sit there, figuratively messaging our decision-making arm, trying to get some strength back into this ability which has been in a kind of emotional cast for years.
It's not surprising that many of us have trouble. Trouble deciding what college to go to, or whether to go to college at all. Trouble deciding what our major should be. And trouble deciding what occupation to pursue after graduation, from high school or college.
We're not dumb. We just haven't had enough 'life experience' at that point. So, we may choose the wrong occupation in life, the wrong life-partner, the wrong habits, the wrong diet, the wrong value system, and the wrong addictions - often turning our back on spiritual strengthening and opting instead, for 'better living through chemistry,' as the criminologist Dr. Joel Fort used to put it.
Sometimes we cause great hurt to others, by these wrong decisions, and wake up one morning to find ourselves living on a street littered with regrets. Ah, what to do then? Well, "Life/work planning" teaches us three important steps toward making our peace with those regrets.
It's relatively – I said 'relatively – easy to ask God to forgive us, harder to ask others to forgive us, but hardest of all to learn to forgive ourselves. It perhaps helps to understand what that means. "To forgive yourself," someone has said, "means giving up once and for all, all hope of ever having a better past." We have the past we have; we must understand it made us stronger.
Many, many times I heard Buckminster Fuller emphasize this: "Man is a creature intended by His creator to learn primarily through making mistakes." And - he would add mischievously - in school we should give an A to the students who have made the most mistakes, for they are the ones who have learned the most. It helps to think that life too gives an A to those of us who have made the most mistakes, if indeed we learned from them - mostly not to repeat them. As the old saying has it, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." By mistakes, we acquire wisdom.
The Old Testament has this exactly right. "You shall not oppress a stranger, you know the heart of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Every experience we have in life must be remembered, for this is the source of our compassion toward those we encounter later on, who are now in the same fix we once were.
'Life experience' – it is to be valued, even the times we made mistakes, for, wisely used, it becomes the source of our wisdom, our forgiveness and compassion. In other words, the things that make us valuable human beings on this planet Earth.
We occupy our time, say we,
with the passage of time,
while we keep time,
or mark time,
and try not to be behind the times;
still we find ourselves taking our time,
or wasting time,
or even killing time.
So it is no surprise that
time after time,
we run out of time,
and regret we didn't have more time.
We learn then, over time,
to try to make time,
by using time-saving devices,
or shortcuts that help us to make excellent time,
so that if things work out, we can end up being on time,
Or even ahead of time
Most of the time.
And when we have time on our hands,
we have a pastime
Wherein we try to have a good time,
even a grand time,
or perhaps the time of our life.
But, as it has been
since time immemorial,
we find ourselves at various times
looking back, and mourning
the passage of time,
remembering when times were better;
and telling people
how it was in our time,
when we enjoyed life
times without number,
even though we did suffer for quite some time
when it seemed that truly the time was out of joint.
Strange things happened to us
at the right time
or the wrong time,
for a short time,
or a long time,
or for some time,
even considerable time.
We tell these stories time and again,
And you know we'll keep telling them
in the time to come –
so long as it is not yet our time.
Yes, but that day will come
when our time is up,
and we are out of time.
Then to whatever realm our souls will go,
We will at last achieve our dream
To be beyond the bounds of time
Or, as we put it,
Almost every popular invention of the last twenty or thirty years has had time (saving) as its principal feature and benefit – be it fast food places, FedEx, Uber, fax machines, pagers, cell phones, e-mail, ATMs, etc. We want instant meals, instant communication, instant access to people or information, at any time of the day or night, and instant response.
Words like: patience, savor, relaxation and the like are only now beginning to be back in vogue. The passage of time remains for many of us a truly royal pain. We reach for wrinkle creams or hair pieces or even plastic surgery as we grow older, but on our mortal face is etched the pain of time.
How to heal the pain of time? We need some rules. Here are four.
This is the disease that seizes us, when we are hurrying just for the sake of hurrying. Like trying to get one car length ahead of where you were on the highway, so you can arrive home five seconds earlier. Hurrying is not an end in itself; it is only a means to an end. Calm down. Build slowness into your day somewhere.
Half of the pain of time results from doing the trivial first, then finding one has run out of time to do the essential thing.
If it's 'put something in the car,' and 'put on your shoes,' the shoes can wait. Beyond the immediate moment, lists help. Many of us shrink from them because we think it's a sign of growing old. Listen, at any age we have "a cell phone memory." Sometimes it's within range, sometimes it's out of range.
Time always arouses one of four emotions: mourning, worry, hope, or appreciation. The last is key. Count your blessings, for as one wise person says, "If you're not grateful for what life has already given you, why do you think it will give you anything more?"
There is magic in hourly gratitude; it redeems and heals the pain of time.